February 10, 2015

Casino honoring Wizard of Oz author draws controversy

by

L. Frank Baum

L. Frank Baum

A Native American tribe in Chittenango, NY has come up with what Michael Schaub rightly describes in the Los Angeles Times as “an obvious idea”—a casino dedicated to the town’s most famous resident, L. Frank Baum, author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and its slew of sequels. It never hurts for a casino to have a theme, and the various Oz properties have plenty of potential: Munchkin penny slots, an Emerald City penthouse suite, nightly performances of Wicked…in an ideal world at least; the musical and the 1939 Judy Garland film are still under copyright, though Baum’s book is now in the public domain.

The planned Yellow Brick Road Casino has come up against opposition, though, from Native Americans who are upset that the Oneida Nation would honor Baum, given two inflammatory newspaper editorials he wrote in the 1890s. Both editorials were published in the Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer; in the first, Baum wrote, “With [Sitting Bull’s] fall the nobility of the Redskin is extinguished, and what few are left are a pack of whining curs who lick the hand that smites them.” And in the second, responding to the Wounded Knee massacre, he argued:

Having wronged [Native Americans] for centuries we had better, in order to protect our civilization, follow it up by one more wrong and wipe these untamed and untamable creatures from the face of the earth. … Otherwise, we may expect future years to be as full of trouble with the redskins as those have been in the past.

John Woodrow Cox of the Washington Post also reports on the casino controversy, quoting a descendent of some of the Wounded Knee victims, Ernestine Chasing Hawk, who says, “How can they be so ignorant of history and traitors to their own race? Would the Jews build a casino to honor Hitler?”

The Oneida Nation, however, is defending the tribe’s decision to move ahead with the casino. Spokesman Ray Halbritter, who’s spoken out against the Washington Redskins team name, insists, “We are aware that some people have difficulty separating the good from the bad. I think we can separate and try to extract the good and focus on the good.” He also points to an apology that two of Baum’s descendants gave in 2006 as a reason to forgive.

“I think that’s a wonderful message — that we’re able to overcome by repentance and by forgiveness,” he says, “It’s looking forward rather than backward.” The Yellow Brick Road Casino is scheduled to open later this year.

 

Nick Davies was a publicist at Melville House.

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